As part of my classes for my three-week block, I have picked up a Social Studies 30 course. This past week we have been discussing the concept of standard of living and looking at the different standards across Canada. I tried to introduce this concept from the perspective of the First Nations people of Canada and my class was very confused about the topic and in many cases made some racist remarks. I have tried to reintroduce the concept but they continue to treat it as a joke.
The teachers at this school are very lax on the topic of Treaty Education as well as First Nations ways of knowing. I have asked my Coop for advice on Treaty Education and she told me that she does not see the purpose of teaching it at this school because there are no First Nations students. I was wondering if you would have any ideas of how to approach this topic with my class or if you would have any resources to recommend.
To anonymous student,
Thank you for reaching out to me. Treaty Education is not only mandatory in the Saskatchewan curriculum and thus, our responsibility to teach, but also a very important subject to address in order to move away from teaching colonialism and racism in the underlying curriculum and stride towards instilling true understandings about the history of our country among our students. Unfortunately, treaty-education makes many educators feel uncomfortable and challenges them to unlearn the societal narratives that they were raised with and change their perspectives concerning what it truly means to be a treaty person. Many of your students may have reacted the way they did due to a lack of understanding or misinformation about First Nations people in Canada which reiterates the importance of teaching Treaty-Education.
I believe that a strong starting point for teaching Treaty-Education is developing the understanding that we are all Treaty people. Personally, this idea was only introduced to me in my first year of University and initially, it was unsettling to hear because my mindset was that I was not a First Nations, Metis, or Inuit person and thus, I was not a treaty person. Today, I recognize the harm in that belief and can now comfortably acknowledge that I am a treaty person because treaties were agreed upon between Indigenous people and European people from whom I descend on the covenant “as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow” which implies that they will always exist. In fact, living in Canada, we are all treaty people. As Canadians, we all inherit the outcomes of treaties and experience the effects of them every day. The decisions of the past have created the future of today and we must acknowledge them and learn the truth about our countries past which begins long before European settlement. Reading Cynthia Chamber’s chapter and sharing it with your coop teacher and students may help instill this perspective and make them more open to learning about treaties and their continuous effects on our country.
With the understanding that we are all treaty people, it should become evident why no matter what race we belong to, Treaty-education is part of every Canadian’s identity and should be taught to all students. Many Indigenous students have knowledge about Treaty-education and indigenous people’s history of our land and as Claire suggests in her introduction video, Indigenous peoples of Canada “do not want more cultural programming … especially when these programs are aimed at them specifically.” What Indigenous students want is to be treated fairly, for the colour of their skin not be a barrier to their success, and for their classmates to know and understand the things that they know and understand about being indigenous. Treaty-education goes far beyond teaching about our countries past because it demonstrates respect and admiration for the people who began on our land and have experienced detrimental effects due to white European settlement. For these reasons, Treaty-education must be taught to ALL students.
Our society has become instilled with racism which is “pervasive, insidious, and deadly” as expressed by Claire in her introduction. News stories such as the Colten Boushie case exemplify this idea and can be used in our classrooms to illustrate the truth about racism in our province. Recent examples concerning the effects of treaties that are still relevant today should help students understand the seriousness of Treaty-education and be open to the learning process. I recommend including such stories in your lessons to help the concept of Treaty-eduction to become real and present in the eyes and minds of your students rather than simply a topic of our past.
My final advice to you is to keep talking. The more we discuss Treaty-education, the more natural it will become and the more willing people will be to continue the conversations. Residential schools may no longer exist but their mentality remains constant and in order to fix that, we need to be honest about our countries past and embed our curriculum with Treaty-education rather than colonialism and racism which continue to persist. By taking responsibility for Treaty-education, we are putting ourselves in a position that will permit reconciliation and a more optimal future where everyone matters and has a voice to be heard.
Wishing you all the best,